Costs Of The Solution
Two issues that are likely to arise in any discussion of fixing this problem are its cost to the Social Security trust fund and its cost to the federal budget. With regard to the cost to the Social Security trust fund, there are three ways to look at the issue.
One way is to view the cost relative to costs in a world in which no pandemic had occurred. For example, the cost could be measured using the economic assumptions in the most recent Social Security trustees report , which were formulated before the pandemic began. From this perspective, the cost would be zero because the legislative change would restore the world of Social Security benefits to what it would have looked like had there been no pandemic.
A second way of looking at the issue is to view the cost of the change relative to costs in a world that reflected economic assumptions indicative of the economic recession caused by the pandemic. From this viewpoint, there would be a cost associated with fixing the problem. For example, the chief actuary of the SSA estimates that if the AWI in 2020 were to fall 5.9 percent below its 2019 level, the AWI adjustments proposed by Chairman Larson would cost $90 billion in present-value dollars for the 75-year period from 2020 through 2094about 0.02 percent of taxable payroll over that period. . The cost over the 10-year period from 2020 to 2029 would be about $21 billion in nominal dollars.
An Example Of Taxed Benefits
Lets say you receive the maximum Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at FRA in 2021: $3,148 per month. Your spouse receives half as much, or $1,574 a month. Together, you receive $4,722 a month, or $56,664 per year. Half of that, or $28,332, counts toward your combined income for determining whether you have to pay tax on part of your Social Security benefits. Lets further assume that you dont have any nontaxable interest, wages, or other income except for your traditional individual retirement accounts required minimum distribution of $10,000 for the year.
Your combined income would be $38,332half of your Social Security income, plus your IRA distributionwhich would make up to 50% of your Social Security benefits taxable, because youve exceeded the $32,000 threshold. Now, you may be thinking, 50% of $56,664 is $28,332, and Im in the 12% tax bracket, so the tax on my Social Security benefits will be $3,399.84.
Fortunately, the calculation takes other factors into account, and your tax would really be a mere $225. You can read all about the taxation of Social Security benefits in Internal Revenue Service Publication 915.
Benefits May Be Taxable
You will have to pay taxes on your benefits if you file a federal tax return as an individual and your total income is more than $25,000. If you file a joint return and you and your spouse make more than $32,000 jointly, you will have to pay taxes on your benefits. For more information, call the InternalRevenue Service at 800-829-3676.
Recommended Reading: How Can I Check My Social Security Status
When Can I Get Social Security
The earliest you can start receiving Social Security benefits is age 62. But the earlier you elect to receive your benefits, the smaller your monthly checks will be. To receive full benefits, you will have to avoid collecting Social Security until you reach your full retirement age. For people born in 1960 or later, that age is 67.
If you decide to retire early, you have the option of delaying your Social Security benefits. This strategy may work particularly well for married couples.
Does Working After Full Retirement Age Increase Social Security Benefits
Working after full retirement age could increase your Social Security benefits. Your benefits are based on average wages over your 35 highest-earning years .
Even after you’ve reached full retirement age, and even if you’ve already claimed benefits, the Social Security Administration continues to recalculate your average annual wage to account for new income. If your earnings after FRA are higher than previous years and raise your average wage for your 35 top-earning years, your benefits could rise accordingly.
Recommended Reading: How To Access My Social Security Account Online
You Think You Can Get A Better Return
You’ll get an 8% increase in your benefit each year past your full retirement age, up until you reach age 70. That means if you’re 67 and wait three years to claim benefits, your check will be 24% larger when you finally start.
But if you’re a savvy investor, it might make sense to start collecting those benefits sooner rather than later. Why? You could collect your Social Security benefits early, invest the money, and beat that 8% annual return.
Of course, there are risks associated with this strategy. Unless you have a crystal ball, you have no idea how the markets will perform. One bad year could wipe out any gains as well as your initial investment.
You Cant Work Anymore
Even the best retirement financial plans and projections can go awry. For example, you might have planned on working until you’re 70 so you could maximize your retirement benefits. If you get laid off at 62, however, and have difficulty finding another job, you might need to start taking your benefits just to get by.
Additionally, continuing to work in your industry simply might not be possible or healthy for you later in life. If your job requires manual labor, you might decide the risk of injury or other damage to your health isn’t worth continuing to work. In this case, the healthier lifestyle you’ll get by retiring early could outweigh the smaller monthly Social Security benefit.
It Might Be A Long Wait Before You Get Any Benefits
One of the main problems with FIRE is that it puts a large distance between a worker and Social Security retirement benefits. For example, if you retire at age 40, youve got at least 22 years until you can start claiming Social Security retirement benefits, and your full retirement age is an even greater 27 years away. While you may not be depending on Social Security to fund your retirement, thats a long time to wait if you find yourself falling short with your savings. Its also a long time to expect the nest egg youve built at age 40 to last without some type of supplemental income.
Related: 35 Retirement Mistakes People Make
Although you may have done the math and decided that your early retirement nest egg is enough to last your entire life, there are decades of uncertainty in those projections before you reach your government-supplied lifeline. A few large unexpected expenses, such as medical bills, home improvements or lawsuits, could be enough to derail your plan.
Pension Benefits Can Lower Earnings
Some pension plans offer a larger initial monthly benefit when you take early retirement the pension benefit then automatically goes down when you become eligible to draw on Social Security. If you are not aware of this, you may think you will get your full pension benefit plus Social Security.
Not all pensions work this way, so attend all classes or seminars offered by your employer to make sure you fully understand your pension and health benefits prior to taking early retirement. Ask plenty of questions, and set up a one-on-one appointment with a benefits advisor or HR person if you can.
In addition, if you worked in education or for the state or a government entity, be aware when you do begin your Social Security benefits that they may be less than what your statement shows due to something called the Windfall Elimination Provision and/or the Government Pension Offset.
For example, suppose your neighbor Lois worked as a teacher for 43 years, and in retirement she expects to get her pension plus $1,300 a month in Social Security. She will be shocked when she learns her Social Security will be less than $300 a month due to the government pension offset that applies if you get a pension for years of work where you were not covered under the Social Security system.
Recommended Reading: Www.mysocialsecuritylogin
You Might Permanently Reduce Your Benefits
Your Social Security benefits are based on a calculation that incorporates your 35 top earning years as a worker. If you retire at age 40, for example, you wont have 35 years of income to report to the Social Security Administration. This means your retirement benefits formula will incorporate a number of years of zero earnings. The result is that retiring early, before what are most peoples peak earnings years, will no doubt result in smaller Social Security retirement benefits for you. In many cases, this reduction could amount to $1,000 per month or more.
Youre Only Working Part
If you claim Social Security prior to your full retirement age while still holding down a part-time job, you might have your benefits reduced if your work income exceeds the annual limit. For 2021, if you are under full retirement age, your benefits go down by $1 for every $2 your income exceeds $18,960. If you reach full retirement age in 2021, your benefits go down by $1 for every $3 your income exceeds $50,520 prior to reaching full retirement age. If you’re working part-time to help make ends meet, taking Social Security at 62 might make sense.
Retiring Early From Declining Income Below The Highest 35 Years
After all, the reality is that if the worker already has 35 years of work history, all of which are at least as high as current earnings , then the prospective retiree isnt actually earning any further increase in benefits by continuing to work! Because the AIME formula only counts the highest 35 years and drops the rest. So if the prospective retiree isnt adding new years that are higher than the existing ones, the additional years of work have no impact. Which means stopping work early has no adverse impact, either.
For instance, the chart below shows an individuals historical earnings over a career, including a substantial ramp-up in the early years, followed by a career transition , then a steady series of raises, with a few wind-down years of consulting work at the end. The top 35 years are shown in blue, and the low years are shown in orange.
As the chart above shows, additional years of work at the current consulting levels will have no impact on benefits because there are already 35 years of historical earnings at even higher levels. As a result, quitting work after age 64 wont have any impact on the benefits that were originally projected to begin at full retirement age of 66.
You’re In Poor Health
Retirement can last 20 or 30 years if you’re a healthy senior, but unfortunately, many people develop illnesses as they age. That’s why planning for healthcare costs in retirement is so important.
If you’re in poor health, you may need the extra money that Social Security benefits provideand opt to claim benefits early. And, sadly, if you think you may not live to be very old, you could come out ahead on a lifetime basis.
This strategy could backfire if you have a spouse. If you start collecting early, it will lower your monthly benefit. But it will also lower any survivor benefits your spouse is entitled to after you pass. If your spouse outlives you for many years, this could be a serious financial hit.
Also Check: How Can I Check My Social Security Status
How Retirement Benefits Work
Social Security replaces a percentage of your pre-retirement income based on their lifetime earnings. The portion of your pre-retirement wages that Social Security replaces is based on your highest 35 years of earnings and varies depending on how much you earn and when you choose to start benefits.
When you work, you pay taxes into Social Security. We use the tax money to pay benefits to:
- People who have already retired.
- People who are disabled.
- Survivors of workers who have died.
- Dependents of beneficiaries.
The money you pay in taxes isnt held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. We use your taxes to pay people who are getting benefits right now. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust fund that pays monthly benefits to you and your family when you start receiving retirement benefits.
What If I Change My Mind
If you receive Social Security benefits at a reduced rate, but then change your mind, you have the option of withdrawing your application and paying back to the government what you’ve already received . Then, you could restart benefits at a later date to take advantage of a higher payout. But you are limited to one withdrawal per lifetime.
For example, let’s say you elected to receive early benefits at age 62, but then decided to go back to work at age 63. You could withdraw your Social Security application within the first 12 months of receiving benefits, pay back the years worth of benefits you received, go back to work, and then wait until a later age to restart your benefit checks at a higher level.
For important details about repaying benefits please read the SSA publication If You Change Your Mind.
You Need To Pay Down Debt
There are some debts you need to tackle before you retire. If you have high-interest debt, claiming Social Security early can help you pay the debt down. Depending on the interest rate you’re paying, the 8% yearly boost to your benefits that you receive for each year you wait past full retirement age might not be worth the increased monthly benefit. Using the early benefits to reduce or eliminate your debt earlier could mean you’ll be able to keep more of your benefits in the future.
How The Length Of Your Career Affects Your Benefits
One of the most important factors when it comes to your benefit amount is the number of years you’ve worked. Most people become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits once they’ve earned income for 10 years, but you’ll need to work for at least 35 years to receive the maximum benefit amount.
When calculating the amount you’ll receive, the Social Security Administration takes an average of your wages throughout the 35 highest-earning years of your career. That number is then adjusted for inflation, and the result is the amount you’ll collect if you claim at your full retirement age .
If you work more than 35 years, only the years with the highest earnings will be counted — which could increase your average and result in a higher benefit amount. If you work fewer than 35 years, however, you’ll have zeros added to the equation, which will bring down your average.
Recommended Reading: Social Security Name Change Divorce
Early Benefits Can Still Pay Off
However, taking early benefits can still pay off despite the reduced monthly check. But youll want to be sure you budget for a reduced benefit.
No one can predict how long youll live, but if youre facing a potentially significant reduction in life expectancy and are short of income, taking Social Security early may be appropriate, says Neiser.
Married women are also good candidates for claiming early benefits because they are likely to outlive their husbands. Those widows then become eligible to receive the greater of either their benefit or their late husbands benefit.
However, this scenario works only if the husband does not claim his benefits early. By not claiming early benefits, the husband effectively increases the monthly benefit his wife eventually receives. So youll want to calculate how filing early will affect your spousal benefit here.
Spouses And Social Security
You can claim Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s work record. If claiming spousal benefits provides more, claiming before your FRA on a spouse’s record means you’ll lose even more than claiming on your own recordthe benefit reduction for a spouse is up to 35% while the reduction for claiming your own benefit is up to 30%. For instance, if you’re the spouse of Colleen in the above example and you are the same age, you’d be eligible for only $650 a month at age 6235% less than the $1000 a month you would get at your FRA of 67.
Not married? Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: Social Security tips for singles
Your decision to take benefits early could outlive you. If you were to die before your spouse, they would be eligible to receive your monthly amount as a survivor benefitif it’s higher than their own amount. But if you take your benefits early, say at age 62 versus waiting until age 70, your spouse’s survivor Social Security benefit could be up to 30% less for the remainder of their lifetime.
Also Check: Track Someone By Social Security Number
Limits On Earned Income If Claiming Early Benefits
Until you reach full retirement age, Social Security will subtract money from your retirement check if you exceed a certain amount of earned income for the year. For the year 2021, this limit on earned income is $18,960 . The amount goes up each year. If you are collecting Social Security retirement benefits before full retirement age, your benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over the limit. Once you reach full retirement age, there is no limit on the amount of money you may earn and still receive your full Social Security retirement benefit.
Henry is considering claiming early retirement benefits this year, at age 64. Social Security calculates that if he does so, he’ll receive $866 a month . But Henry also intends to continue working part-time, with an income that will be about $5,000 over the yearly limit on earned income. If he does claim the early benefits and makes that part-time income each month, Henry would lose one dollar out of two from the $5,000 he earns over the limit, which means $2,500 for the year. So, by claiming early retirement and continuing to earn over the limit, Henry incurs a double penalty: His retirement benefits are permanently reduced by 13%, and he loses an additional amount every month to the extent he earns over the income limit.
Social Security does not reduce each monthly check by a small amount, unfortunately. Instead, the agency may withhold several months’ entire checks until the reduction is paid off.